More JPJ concerns expressed at meeting

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By Jennifer Garcia

A handful of petitioners against the Judicial/Police/Jail Complex tried once more to put a stop to the construction of the building near Ashley Pond at Tuesday’s County Council meeting.

A handful of residents attended the meeting in hopes that they could convince councilors to halt the project and as before, council listened to their grievances and voted to proceed with construction.

In a directly related matter, Council voted to accept Guaranteed Maximum Price No. 2 in the amount of $15,011,650 and approve the 100 percent design drawings.

Min Park, a local business owner who spearheaded the first petition brought to Council last week, attended last night’s meeting to present the second petition that he and other residents signed.

“Thank you for accepting our petition tonight,” Park said. “You expressed our strong desire not to stop the project. The second petition is asking you not to grant the $15 million.”

Park went on to address the three points that he covered during the last meeting, which were size, location and cost associated with the JPJ Complex. He restated his opinion on the complex costing too much and it being too large for its intended uses.

  “I consider the JPJ to be a secondary function for the town of Los Alamos,” he said. “Our county is safe, we have a very low crime rate and the activities in the court are very minimal in my mind.”

Last week, councilors questioned Park on the delay in presenting the petition.

“Last week, I was sitting here two hours and didn’t see much (of a) logical argument in your argument,” he said. “Some of you challenged me to bring the petition late, but to my mind, it’s not too late. If we look at this county’s future for the next 50 years, a few months of delay is not significant to my mind,” he said.

At the last meeting, councilors also stated that one of the reasons they were continuing with the plans for the JPJ was because of the money already committed to the project.

“We’re already losing $4 million so we can’t go back,” Park said. “It’s a disgrace to our citizens that we’re losing that amount. The loss of the money is not that substantial. $4 million can come and go in private businesses.”

For the most part, councilors declined to comment on the petition.

However, Chairman Jim Hall did say that he listened carefully to the citizens for the second time and he would personally prefer that Ashley Pond be entirely a park.

“That decision is not made yet and may not be made for another year, if that is even possible,” Hall said.

He also said that the 15,000 sq. ft. of extra space that Park claims is in the current building plans do not exist.

“Before this came to us, the amount of space for the courts was cut down quite a bit from the original request,” Hall said. “The size has been cut down at least twice. Police staffing has more than doubled with no increase in the size of the current facility.”

Hall said that the jail is inadequate for the different kinds of prisoners that police take in. “The highest priority in this community is public safety,” he said.

Councilors-elect Vincent Chiravalle and Mike Wismer also addressed council and spoke out against the JPJ Complex.

“Min and the other petitioners make an excellent point,” Chiravalle said. “It’s not too late to reduce the size and cost of this project while still meeting our needs to have court in Los Alamos and renovate our jail. I feel it would serve our community well if we take a more frugal approach. I think there’s room for a great deal of savings.”

Wismer asked that councilors think about what Park mentioned in terms of an exercise in fiscal responsibility and look at the space and fixture issues and decide whether they need to execute the $15 million execution of the budget at this time, or if there are opportunities to look at the design again.

“I know that one of the arguments that Park makes is that the final design doesn’t have to be the final design,” Wismer said. “There is no doubt that there is a need for a judicial complex and courts in one building.”

Resident Richard Dunn also spoke out during the meeting, saying that he thinks all of Park’s issues with the complex are serious enough to be worthy of delaying the vote until the new council is in place.

“It seems to me highly unusual that we put a jail on our commons grounds,” Dunn said. “It’s like putting the jail in Santa Fe on the Plaza.”

Councilor Nona Bowman thanked the petitioners for their work.

“It’s true that many of us questioned the square footage many times and voted against the project,” she said. “We didn’t receive any input that things were wrong at that time,” she continued.

After comments from the public were heard, Councilor Frances Berting made the motion to acknowledge the petition, thank the petitioners for their request and take no further action on the matter.

The motion was seconded by Councilor Michael Wheeler and passed 5-1 with Gibson voting against it.

Wheeler was not present, but participated in Tuesday’s meeting via telephone.